Red-eyed Damselfly – Erythromma najas – male

water pipit (anthus spinoletta to you)

Hi, Pete,

Breaking a lifetime’s indolence and my inveterate – 64 years birdwatching? – habit of avian non-recording, non-listing and minimal note-taking, I feel compelled at a distance of almost exactly 7 days to register a few more comments on the above seen by me around 16.20 last Wednesday afternoon at Stonebridge Wood pond, Tottenham Marshes, and verbally reported at the time.

I know we’ve spoken about it subsequently and I’ve conveyed my regrets at having no cell phone or camera with me when I first observed it but, given the unusual circumstances of this sighting, a species I have never seen before in its breeding plumage let alone on passage 11 days into May, I was too mesmerised to behave logically until it was too late. A marauding bunch of staffies in the company of 4 or 5 yooffs swept through the area and curtailed any semblance of natural activity, so when I came back half an hour later, mobile in hand, cloudy overcast weather and a temperature dip had taken over and kept any birds from the vicinity.

When I first reached the pond the sun was out and we – Max and I – were enjoying a brief warm spell, with no gusts of chilly wind, and in my mind the vague hope of seeing last summer’s grass snake, disturbed from its sandy basking spot, slither once again into the drink. Alas no reptiles, apart from smooth newts gulping for oxygen at the sunny interface of air and H2O, but instead the pleasure of a 7/8 strong family of long-tailed tits criss-crossing the path between grey poplars and elders and back, and at the water’s edge successively a great tit, blackcap and robin overlapping in their quest for a drink and vigorous “wet brush-up”. While listening to the ziz-zizzing of the LTTs and watching a male blackcap beak-quaff like an Irishman on St Patrick’s Day, my attention was diverted to another bird dropping into the bottom right corner of my binoculars. I panned across and saw–

What looked like, no it was, a slim passerine like none I’d ever seen. The immediate wow factor was the pink and grey. A pale pink breast of even and uniform hue starting abruptly below the whitish throat and stopping at the off-white belly with no apparent streaking, and barely then at the flanks; and a fedora-grey crown and nape, similarly pure in tone, that continued on to and well into the mantle. The bill was very dark, the eye stripe or supercilium white, but sadly I ignored the legs which I’m sure were not flesh-coloured or suchlike, because I would have noticed them second time around when it ran the half metre or so to the waterside. Nor did I catch the distinguishing white tail feathers. Tut-tut, you say? It’s what I tell myself in my remiss ignorance and basic failure to observe salient identifying features, as you have pointed out to me before on more than one occasion. Trouble is, I was so overcome by the sheer understated elegance of its summer plumage that the jizz pre-empted all due diligence. If ever a bird of such muted colours can be described as vivid, like this in the full sun, it was mine last week. Truly unforgettable.

Let me then pinpoint a couple of questionable things. After its first visit, landing from I know not where and lasting some 15-20 seconds, when it was already thigh-high in water and drinking, then swiftly splashing itself, it flew up into the nearest elder bush. I had a wait of no more than 2 or 3 minutes before it came down again. My impression was it glided down, a bit like a tree pipit, but having now looked up the water pipit’s file extensively online and in guidebooks, I cannot answer why (a) it flew up to a tree perch and (b) it flighted down in a sort of arc. But then I don’t know the answer to its extended grey mantle, unblemished pink underparts, or any other anomalies such as its late departure to the EU alpine zones or further south. None of the photographic images and artist’s illustrations provide me with one, nor do they begin to do justice to the stunning pastel beauty of the Water Pipit I was lucky enough to observe for a few cherished moments. Am I getting too sentimental, too anthropomorphic any minute now, for you hard nosed trainspotters? I hope not. Sniff sniff!

If only I had caught it on camera! If only feral youths hadn’t interrupted! If only the sun hadn’t gone in! If only, eh? Never mind, it’s a memorable first for me, please submit if you think it’s appropriate.



ps: I did see 3 water pipits at Titchwell early March this year, in winter attire, so I’m not quite a virgin where they are concerned. Also, frank admission, I did jot down a few notes on the day albeit an hour or so after the event.

Sand Martin

I am posting another Sand Martin picture as a test for image size. Two birds at Pymmes Brook last Friday.

(Found this in draft form i.e. unpublished, so thought I’d try to publish it for David. Debbie)

May Bird Survey – Sunday 15th May 2011

The Grasshopper Warbler, heard by some of the Bird Survey participants, has already been mentioned. Note that it was only heard – it was very difficult to pin down exactly from where this unusual song (a mechanical, whirring reel) was originating.

More common, but far more entertaining were the Sand Martins dashing round the sky and around the holes in the banks of Pymmes Brook. Conveniently viewed from the road near the Waterside Visitor Centre, there were 20+ birds flying in and out of the holes. Sometimes up to four birds flew into the same tiny hole entrance! Not quite sure what was going on – let’s hope they’ve decided to try nesting here.

David Cottridge captured some of the action – here is one of his Sand Martin shots.

He also caught a Reed Warbler in full song.

Other summer visitors included Common Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Sedge Warblers.


Rare Visitors

 A couple of rare visitors this week.

Michael Ruggins had a wayward water pipit near the Stonebridge Wood Pond last Wednesday. It was sporting full breeding plumage but is a long way off track for the time of year.

On Sunday, Pete Lambert heard a grasshopper warbler singing on Wild Marsh East at around 7.30 am. A number of us went over there later in the morning and managed to hear a few brief reels. Might be worth a look to see if he sticks around for a few days.


latest sightings

Pete Lambert spotted a winchat on the North-west corner of Wild Marsh West and a cetti’s was singing by the bridge over Pymmes brook. The same place as last year. (Does Pymmes have an apostrophe?)